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banner Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 15:27 GMT
Henry reaches half century
Omar Henry and Paul Adams
Henry (left) is a respected figure in South Africa
Omar Henry, the first non-white player to represent South Africa, speaks to BBC Sport Online's Martin Gough on his 50th birthday.

Omar Henry celebrated his 50th birthday on Wednesday as one of the more respected figures of South African cricket.

The slow left-armer, became in 1992 the first non-white player to play Test cricket for the country, after the dismantling of the Apartheid regime saw South Africa readmitted to world sport.

And he is now coach of provincial side Boland, the Western Cape side responsible for producing talent such as Justin Ontong and Charl Langeveldt as well as posing a consistent challenge in one-day cricket especially.


There needs to be a criteria so that players know what they need to do to get into the Test side
Omar Henry
Henry was part of what he describes as the "exciting development" of a generation of post-isolation South African cricketers under Kepler Wessels and Hansie Cronje.

And he is keen now to be associated with the emergence of a second generation of post-isolation South African cricketers, regardless of colour.

But his first emergence in the South African line-up, during Australia's rebel tour of 1986, saw him criticised on both sides of that divided nation.

Whites were dubious of his credentials, despite his 10 years of experience with Western Province, while the black cricket establishment accused him of selling out.

Omar Henry bowling for South Africa
Henry was criticised for selling out to white cricket
"There was the principal that you can't play normal sport in an abnormal society, and I was aware of that," says Henry. "But I wasn't aware of the undercurrents which surrounded it."

"I was focussed on my dream of playing for my country and furthering my career. I thought that by improving my game I could be a role model for other non-whites.

"But there were far more serious issues involved and I was possibly a little na´ve about the situation.

"Once you hear about the suffering endured during Apartheid, you do feel guilty and I had to sit down and ask myself some critical questions about my decision."

Acceptance

Off the field he suffered the indignities of not being allowed to stay in the same hotels as his team-mates and being thrown out of restaurants during team meals.

But whatever those away from cricket believed about his inclusion in the national side, he felt accepted by his fellow players, even if he was never part of the school-tie-wearing establishment.

Justin Ontong
The Ontong controversy could have been avoided
Recently though, Ontong was not afforded the same grace, with head of selectors Graeme Pollock speaking out publicly about the all-rounder's forced inclusion in the side for the third Test against Australia.

A heated debate followed in both countries on the imposition of racial quotas on Test teams.

Only Henry at the time refused to take a side, saying instead that the authorities should have done more to allow black youngsters to be accepted on merit.

And he believes the warning signs were there long before Ontong's name replaced that of Jacques Rudolph on the team sheet.

"The incident was flashing in front of our eyes for a while but people chose to play wait-and-see, hoping it would not happen.

"Unfortunately it did happen and now we have to deal with it in a positive way."


South Africa is at a crossroads and we have to make a bold decision now
Omar Henry
Henry points out that over the last few years, there has appeared to be an inconsistency in the ease with which players have secured their places in the team.

And he says more transparent guidelines should be put in place to avoid accusations of bias in future.

"There are various reasons a player might not make it. Perhaps he just isn't good enough, or the conditions on that trip don't suit him, or there is a school of thought that he will not do well.

"But there needs to be a criteria for players going on a tour so that they know what they need to do to play in the Test side."

Bold decision

Henry is reluctant to apportion blame for the national team's current poor showing in South Africa, although he feels that question marks hang over some of the game plans used, and team selections made.

Shaun Pollock
Pollock and South Africa face some tour choices
But he says South Africa now faces a crucial decision on whether to bring in a raft of new players in the run-up to the World Cup in 12 months' time or to stick with established stars until the tournament before taking a new direction.

"South Africa is at a crossroads and we have to make a bold decision now.

"We have to make sure that what we have learnt from this tour isn't forgotten."

His birthday milestone is unlikely to be a crossroads for Henry, though, as he professes to be content at the helm of a Boland side known for over-achieving on limited resources

"Through my career I've always preferred being associated with the underdog rather than the favourite," he says. "I suppose it comes from my upbringing."

See also:

03 Jan 02 |  Australia v South Africa
Rice calls for player revolt
28 Sep 01 |  India in South Africa
Turning back the clock
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